THOMASBORO — Todd Wilson is feeling pretty lousy these days — quarantined in his home, where he is recovering from COVID-19.
The Rantoul Township High School principal is sequestered away from his family in a section of his house.
The fact that Veterans Day was approaching — a day that Wilson likes to celebrate — made the illness even tougher to take.
Still, he wanted to read the poem “I Am A Veteran” by Andrea Christensen Brett that has become a Veterans Day tradition at the school. He’ll be able to do that. Just not in person.
I Am a Veteran
You may not know me the first time we meet
I’m just another you see on the street
But I am the reason you walk and breathe free
I am the reason for your liberty
I am a veteran.
I work in the local factory all day
I own the restaurant just down the way
I sell you insurance, I start your IV
I’ve got the best- looking grandkids you’ll ever see
Wilson made a recording of him reading the poem and emailed it to the school. Teachers will be able to play it for their classes. He’ll be there in spirit. It means a lot to the eight-year Army veteran who rose to the rank of sergeant.
“I found the poem a couple years ago,” the 49-year-old Wilson said. “I’ve been reading it for several years now.”
He said he asked the teachers to play the recording of him reading the poem before they start their class.
I’m your grocer, your banker
Your child’s schoolteacher
I’m your plumber, your barber
Your family’s preacher
But there’s part of me you don’t know very well
Just listen a moment, I’ve a story to tell
I am a veteran
I joined the service while still in my teens
I traded my prom dress for camouflage greens
I’m the first in my family to do something like this
I followed my father, like he followed his
Wilson said serving in the military “provided me with a good foundational base.”
“It gave me discipline, life experiences ... as a young person that I probably wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t gone into the military.”
It also allowed him to pay for his education to become a teacher and a principal.
Defying my fears and hiding my doubt
I married my sweetheart before I shipped out
I missed Christmas, then Easter
The birth of my son
But I knew I was doing what had to be done
I served on the battlefront, I served on the base
I bound up the wounded
And begged for God’s grace
I gave orders to fire, I followed commands
I marched into conflict in far distant lands
In the jungle, the desert, on mountains and shores
In bunkers, in tents, on dank earthen floors
While I fought on the ground, in the air, on the sea
My family and friends were home praying for me
Wilson earned bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degrees in education from Eastern Illinois University.
He said serving in the military is good for many young people. That doesn’t mean he thinks it’s for everybody, but a good choice to consider.
“It is not for everyone, but it is definitely worth exploring, and everyone gets their own experience from it,” he said. “They shouldn’t take it off the table.”
For the land of the free and the home of the brave
I faced my demons in foxholes and caves
Then one dreaded day, without drummer or fife
I lost an arm, my buddy lost his life
I came home and moved on
But forever was changed
The perils of war in my memory remained
I don’t really say much, I don’t feel like I can
But I left home a child, and came home a man
There are thousands like me
Thousands more who are gone
But their legacy lives as time marches on
White crosses in rows
And names carved in queue
Remind us of what these brave souls had to do
RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio said it’s obvious Wilson is proud to have served.
“Being a veteran himself, obviously this day holds a special place in his heart,” Amerio said.
Wilson was the main motivator in the school holding a Veterans Day meal, where students could invite family and friends who have served in the military. The event, held in the school’s gym, included food prepared at the school, music and orations.
But then the pandemic hit, eliminating the ability to hold the event.
Now Wilson is feeling the effects of the virus even more acutely.
Amerio said he “thought it was great” that Wilson will be able to continue to read the poem to the staff and students, even if he can’t be there in person.
“Sometimes these holidays, the students don’t know the meaning behind them,” Amerio said, “but when you can attach it to someone you know ... it hits closer to home and has a little more meaning.”
I’m part of a fellowship, a strong mighty band
Of each man and each woman
Who has served this great land
And when Old Glory waves
I stand proud, I stand tall
I helped keep her flying over you, over all
I am a veteran